My eldest was six years old the other day and she had a pretty good day: gifts, games, cards, candles, chocolate caterpillar cake. The usual. By the end of the day, she was pretty tired, but insisted playing "one more game".
How could I refuse?
She darted off and two seconds later shoved Monopoly Junior in front of my face. Not quite what I was expecting, but the day was hers, so I didn't protest.
She went first, but I had an initial spark of luck. On my first go, a Chance card said I was now the owner of Mayfair. "Get in!" I shouted, forgetting I was playing against a six-year-old girl.
I needn't have worried. Within a few turns, she'd amassed a property portfolio consisting of the reds, oranges, yellows, greens, half the pinks and half the light blues. I was left with Mayfair, Old Kent Road and Whitechapel. Two minutes later I was bankrupt. She was delighted.
In spite of my loss, it got me thinking.
Was this a realistic way for her to learn about property and money? Nope. Monopoly is nothing like the real world because everyone starts off on an equal footing in terms of their starting position and share of the money.
So I rewrote the rules to help her learn her how things really work:
1. Only one player starts on Go! Everyone else will roll the die and start on whatever square they land on. If it's a property square, the player automatically inherits the property.
2. Everyone starts with a different amount of money. Each player rolls the die and multiplies it by 100. This will be their salary. The banker's salary is always £700 per turn.
3. Collect your salary, instead of £200, each time you pass Go!
4. And last but not least... Each and every time you pass Go!, you have to pay the bank 25% of the purchase price of each property you own. If you don't own a property, you have to pay the bank 25% of your salary to cover your rent.
These new "real-life" rules will teach my daughter a lot, but a few things stand out.
She'll learn that, in real life, some people may start off with more money than her and that this will enable them to pursue opportunities that she may not; a bit like having to start ten meters behind Usain Bolt on sports day.
She'll learn that some people will inherit a house while she may not, and that this free asset can provide them with a greater sense of security and be leveraged to pay for other things and even earn itself an income free of much effort.
She'll learn that the amount of money she earns each month will dramatically affect which type of house she can afford, its location and the consequent benefits of being in that location.
The lessons don't end there.
She'll learn that some people may earn more money than her, and that her salary will affect how much she can save and spend, and therefore which opportunities she can and can't pursue. This will be irrespective sometimes of any skill she may have acquired or how existentially valuable it might be to another human being or the economy.
A paramedic, for instance, earns less than a banker even though the paramedic's skill is more important than a banker's. You can have life without banking, but you can't have banking without life.
But the last, and perhaps most important thing my six-year-old might learn is that being the banker delivers a considerable in-built advantage. In other words, in real life, the dice are loaded from the start.
Will the proper rules for Monopoly teach her any of that? Nope. Because they are fair; they give everyone an equal start.
And that's the point.
It starts equitably, but ends inequitably as a result of skill and luck, not in-built bias.
"But Lee, real life isn't fair!" I hear you cry.
Well, I'm not talking about "life".
I'm talking about how ill-conceived man-made rules, bias, monopolies, nepotism, elitism and cronyism can dramatically and unfairly affect how well each of us performs in life. In a truly free market economy, those things need to be rooted out and eliminated.
If the playing field is level from the start, who can rage against the machine?
When we're done playing Monopoly, I'll ask my daughter this: if the banker starts off with an unfair advantage, what should we do about that, and how can we go about creating a fairer way to enable everyone to become masters of their own universe and start the race of life on a fairer footing? The answer to which, may be here.